Questions of Cash: Corgi's refund takes heat out of HomePlan upset


Q. In autumn 2011, Corgi offered us its HomePlan central heating cover, which we paid monthly from November 2011. In spring 2012, it offered to extend the cover to include home electrics, which I agreed to. The policy included an annual central heating service, to be carried out before November each year. I phoned on 29 September 2012 to remind it of this and to request the annual service – we had problems restarting the central heating after it had been switched off for the summer.

I was promised an engineer would contact me, but I heard nothing. I emailed twice and phoned again, but still nothing happened. I then cancelled the direct debit, and a local engineer serviced our system. I requested a refund of the £221.82 paid in premiums to Corgi. Again my correspondence was ignored. I paid £204 to the local engineer for a service that I had paid Corgi for, but which was not provided. PS, Leeds.

A. Corgi HomePlan has refunded the cost of your premiums plus the cost of the service provided by the engineer. You have received a payment of £425.82, which is significantly more than you requested. James Duffie, Corgi HomePlan's customer service director, apologises for the problems. He says: "We pride ourselves on our high level of customer service, but in this case there have clearly been failings both on the part of our appointed engineer and my administration team. I am working closely with my management team to improve communications between the engineers, ourselves and our customers to prevent this situation occurring again."

Q. Three years ago, we bought a fridge-freezer from John Lewis. It has since developed a fault that will cost more to repair than the purchase price of £350. We complained to John Lewis, but the best it will offer is a half-price replacement. It is reasonable to expect a fridge freezer should have a life of well over 10 years – my mother-in-law's freezer has lasted 54 years. Even Liebherr, the manufacturer, was shocked to learn that one of its products had given problems at "such a young age". Are we being unreasonable to demand a free replacement? AW, Sussex.

A. We raised this with John Lewis but it did not improve the offer it had already made. A spokeswoman says: "We have offered the customer a considerable amount towards a replacement fridge-freezer, and have found him a suitable alternative made by the same manufacturer." She said that the retailer was waiting to hear from you as to whether you found the offer acceptable . We offered to take the matter further by contacting Liebherr to discuss the problem, but you did not respond.

Q. Our 21-year-old son signed up with an employment agency, which found him his first job as a postgraduate. He was to be paid £80 a day plus travel costs. He was not told whether the £80 would be gross or net. He was later instructed to sign up with an umbrella company, which meant he had to pay both the employee's and the employer's national insurance contributions, plus a £27.50 weekly administration fee to the umbrella company.

When he finished the work, he requested the promised travel expenses of £50 a week. He was then told these were only a tax deduction as and when he began paying tax. He is unlikely to pay any tax this year. Umbrella companies can flout the rules designed to protect temporary staff by opting for the Swedish Derogation. The umbrella company also included his holiday pay within the £80 a day as "rolled-up pay", which we thought was unlawful. LK, Leicestershire.

A. Problems with employment agencies and umbrella companies can be taken to both HMRC and Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. An Acas spokesman explains: "The Swedish Derogation applies when a temporary work agency can offer an agency worker a permanent contract of employment and pay the agency worker between assignments. If no such contract is agreed, agency workers are classed as 'workers' rather than employees, and therefore have a different set of rights.

The Swedish Derogation allows for a temporary work agency to offer an agency worker a permanent contract of employment. The agency worker will forgo their right to the same pay as if they had been recruited by the employer directly. In exchange, they establish their employment status as an 'employee' and gain the rights this entails." He adds: "Rolled-up holiday pay is when employers or employment agencies state that the hourly rate of pay includes an element of holiday pay.

This means that employees and agency workers are paid holiday pay within their normal wages throughout the year. An hourly rate of £7.20 might include a sum to cover annual leave. It is advisable that employees are paid holiday pay at the time the employees take their annual leave. There are very specific rules for using rolled up holiday pay." Acas warns that several risks about working for an employment agency should be considered.

The temporary contract is between the worker and the agency. Agency workers generally hold "worker status", limiting their employment rights – they are not entitled to claim redundancy pay or unfair dismissal. The employment agency can terminate the contract at any point, so there is less employment security.

Workers should check if the agreement is for a Swedish Derogation employment, or if employment is as a traditional agency worker. But regardless of the kind of contract, all workers and employees are protected by the national minimum wage provisions and working time legislation. As far as we can tell, what happened to your son does not breach the law. But it is a warning to others in a similar situation.

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